14 July 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — ATTACK ON HINDU PILGRIMS IN KASHMIR
CERAS condemns the fatal attack on Hindu pilgrims on their way to Amarnath, one of the most revered Hindu shrines, during this pilgrimage season. It also urges caution in ascribing blame. The attack took place around 8.10 pm (IST) on Monday 10th July at Botengo village in Anantnag district in South Kashmir on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway.
Nobody has as yet claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack. However, at least initially, unspoken assumptions and innuendo seemed to imply that Monday’s attack is the work of armed Kashmiri nationalists. In this context, it is important to note that if indeed this were so, it would be a major aberration.
In fact Kashmiri nationalists have often publicly stated, and this year is no exception, that the pilgrims will not be harmed. A month ago well-known Kashmiri nationalist Syed Ali Shah Geelani stated: “The yatra [pilgrimage to Amarnath] has been going on for decades and the people here have treated the pilgrims with unique hospitality. They have always been hospitable, decent and received the pilgrims as their guests”. And in the wake of yesterday’s attack, nationalist leaders have “expressed deep sorrow and grief over the killing of Amarnath Yatris in Anantnag … and strongly condemned it;” the attack “goes against the very grain of Kashmiri ethos”.
Since 1989 with the increase in Kashmiri nationalist militancy, many Pandits (Kashmiri Hindus) fled. But many also remained. Repeated invitations from Kashmiri nationalist guerrillas to Pandits to return to the valley, subvert any communalist narrative of the situation. Just last year the guerrilla leader Zakir Rashid Bhat stated: “We request Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homes. We take the responsibility of their protection. They should look at those Pandits who have been living in the [Kashmir] Valley. Did they face any problems here?” The nationalists have always made it clear that their conflict is with the Indian state (which maintains one of the largest militarized presences in the world in Kashmir as a way of stamping out militant nationalism); that this is not a Hindu-Muslim conflict, nor is it a conflict where civilians are targeted.
In this context, the attack on the pilgrims yesterday raises many questions. If it is not nationalist guerrillas who perpetrated the attack, then who is responsible? And why? In the current state of affairs in India where there is steep escalation in Hindu nationalist rhetoric and actions, where fake news about Muslims killing Hindus has become standard operating procedure, and where Muslims have been attacked and killed by lynch mobs (7 in the last two years), the attack on the Hindu pilgrims to Amarnath has incendiary potential.
As details emerge there seems to be a somewhat better understanding of how the event unfolded.The bus had developed a flat tire and stopped so it could be fixed. Security forces cover the national highway from 4 AM to 7 PM for the Amarnath yatra and there are definite time schedules for the movement of vehicles carrying pilgrims. The delay resulted in the bus being on the road after the 7pm curfew. The Director-General of the Central Reserve Police Force (one of many government para-military forces in Kashmir) stated: “These yatris [pilgrims] had not registered themselves, as is advised, and did not even become part of the yatra [pilgrimage] convoy, which is escorted by security forces, both to and from Amarnath, everyday. They also violated the 7 pm curfew on movement of yatris.”
One of the pilgrims in the bus, Yogesh Prajapati said that an Army jeep had started following the bus at some point and the terrorists might have aimed at the jeep but ended up hitting the bus. Some in the media are also making reference to another incident in 2000 when pilgrims and locals who serve them as porters and horsemen were killed in crossfire between Indian security forces unidentified armed fighters. However it needs to be pointed out that in that instance civilians, including pilgrims to Amarnath were not the targets, but were killed in the crossfire.
As of now there are no answers about who carried out this attack. For decades, Kashmir has been used as a political football within India and across the border by Pakistan. While condemning this terrible act of violence, it is also important not to engage in an unsubstantiated blame game, to not conflate communalism and nationalism and to be cognizant that those responsible focus on their own objectives with cynical disregard for the people whose lives are destroyed by their actions.